Revisiting the Fisher Site

Revisiting the Fisher Site

<bt>Though it is now a vacant, privately-owned lot, the fields at Broad Run Farms were home to a fortified Native American village nearly 1,000 years ago.

Dr. Stevan Pullins revealed the details of life inside this village at a June 10 gathering of community members at the Galilee Methodist Church in Sterling. Pullins, field manager for the archaeological excavation of the lot which is known as the Fisher Site, worked with a team from the College of William & Mary's Center for Archaeological Research on an assessment of the historical site beginning in March 2001.

"Contrary to what most people think, archaeologists don't just go out there and dig,' Dr. Pullins said. The team worked from numerous grid maps that revealed the topography and elevation of the Fisher Site, digging up to 14 inches into the soil to uncover clues about the village that existed there circa A.D. 980 and A.D. 1000.

"Our limited work contributed to a longer-term plan to secure and protect the surviving portion of the Fisher Site," said Dr. Dennis Blanton, director of the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research. The center received a $16,647 research grant for use towards research of the Fisher Site.

PULLINS AND the William & Mary team uncovered numerous artifacts that provided fresh insight into the ancient occupants of the private lot. The artifacts included pottery shards, arrowheads and bone tools. The water-screen process, which acts as a sifter to catch seeds and other particles, uncovered preserved corn.

"We do know that [the Native Americans] were practicing horticulture...that they did farm some corn," Pullins said. Uncovered bone fragments led the team to surmise that elk, raccoon and turtle were dietary staples as well.

Pullins revealed that the discovery of a segment of trenches dug into the ground suggested the construction of a palisade, or fence, for the village's defense. The team believed that the trenches were used to hold posts between which material was woven as a means of protection from enemies, including the migration of other Native Americans that passed through the territory.

According to Pullins, the palisade construction could have been a defense mechanism against the migration of the Oasco people down into Stafford County in what is now known by archaeologists as the Potomac Creek Site.

"People seem to forget the history [around them]," said Bob Jolly, an archaeologist with the Virginia Department of Resources.

THE WILLIAM & Mary team, however, is not the first to examine the Fisher Site. The first excavation was in 1938, when a research team discovered dog and human burial sites along with trash pits situated on the outer edge of the village. The team classified the Fisher Site with a group of villages and sites in the area known as the Montgomery Focus.

After finishing their exploration, the 1938 team left a straw in the ground so future archaeologists, like a subsequent 1981 team and Pullins' team, would know that the site had been tampered with and that some artifacts had been moved around.

"[The dig] doesn't mean as much as it would have if the Indians had actually put the artifacts there," Pullins said.

ALTHOUGH PULLINS' team organized and executed the dig along with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the cooperation of Thomas Lopp, who owns the site, elementary school students, local residents and even the local Boy Scout troop stopped by the site to observe the team at work.

"The work that we did at the site was truly a cooperative effort," Pullins said. "The community was involved not only through volunteer participation in the excavation but also by posing questions at [the] earlier community meeting that helped us understand their interests."

Heidi Siebentritt, with the Loudoun County Department of Planning, commended the local residents as well. "[They] were incredibly supportive and interested," she said.

According to Jolly, the benefits of the Fisher Site extend beyond mere scientific data. "[This experience] was educational for all parties involved," he said. "This opened up people's horizons."

Blanton hopes that the efforts at the Fisher Site bring a sense of historical uniqueness to the community. "The community...could gain from this work by knowing that an irreplaceable record of early North American culture is preserved," he said.

Despite the findings of Pullins' team, no future plans exist for examining the Fisher Site. "The site is covered up right now," Pullins said. "There are not any plans right now for interpretation. We found what usually happens in archaeology ... more questions than answers."